Cook proves himself in loss
QUEENS, N.Y. -- As Thomas Bryant went to the bench with foul trouble early in the contest against Montverde (Fla.), Huntington Prep needed a player to step up in his absence.
Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford called on big man Levi Cook, who not only filled in nicely for Bryant, but also changed the dynamic of the game in the post.
The West Virginia University commit and former Liberty-Raleigh standout controlled the glass against the nation's top team while also shutting down Montverde post player Ben Simmons, who is the No. 6 player in the Class of 2015.
The game ended with Montverde -- the nation's No. 1 team -- earning a 56-51 win over Huntington Prep, but Fulford said he couldn't ask for any more effort out of any of his players while also heaping praise on Cook, who saw his most extensive action of the season in the team's biggest game.
"I'm proud of him because he hasn't done that all year," Fulford said. "I think for him, he understands now the level of player he can be and I hope from this point moving forward, he saw in that game where he belongs because he did that against a (future) pro."
Cook came into the contest early in the second quarter after Bryant was whistled for his second foul on the first possession of the quarter.
As he went into the lineup, Bryant talked to him and Cook responded with his play on the court.
"Thomas has kind of helped motivate me," Cook said. "He said we were like brothers and I told him I had his back. He asked me to help him and that's my brother so I had to help him."
Fulford said their relationship was built by working hard each day to improve each other's game in practice by going at each other.
Once inserted into the lineup, Huntington Prep's dynamic changed quite a bit on both ends as the Irish went to more of a half-court game offensively in an effort to get the ball down low to Cook, who outweighed Simmons by nearly 100 pounds.
The move worked as Montverde was unable to guard Cook as he got the ball in the paint. He helped get the Eagles in a bit of foul trouble of their own in the second quarter.
"You're not going to guard him one-on-one in the post when he decides he wants to post up," Fulford said.
Montverde coach Kevin Boyle echoed as much as he sent double-teams down to help on Cook.
"We were trying to do a better job of fronting the post, but the one guy (Cook) is such a big kid that he's tough to get around," Boyle said. "He's strong and he's hard to move."
Cook's presence defensively was also evident as he did a good job of going straight up without fouling while forcing Montverde to shoot over him. The end result was a second quarter in which Montverde scored just two points, which they got on an offensive rebound.
Cook finished with five points and nine rebounds, but his impact played much bigger as the Irish hung tough to the end.
Fulford said he was happy to see the performance, especially after those in the Mountain State had questioned Cook's move from Liberty-Raleigh where he was a standout and one of the state's top players to Huntington Prep where his minutes were limited.
"For him, he probably could've easily won Player of the Year in West Virginia had he stayed where he was at, but because he's there banging with Thomas every day, he's a much better player than when he showed up in August and Thomas is a much better player than when he showed up," Fulford said.
The good news for Fulford and the Irish is that Cook has one more season before heading to West Virginia University as part of the Class of 2015.
If Friday's contest is any indication, Cook is a player that everyone in the Mountain State is going to enjoy watching change games for years to come.